Prisoner of conscience Azimjan Askarov remained in prison, despite a recommendation by the UN Human Rights Committee that he be immediately released. A “foreign agents” law that would have negatively affected NGOs was rejected, but a draft law on propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relations” remained under discussion. Constitutional amendments threatened human rights protection. Perpetrators of torture and of violence against women enjoyed impunity, and police carried out discriminatory raids against sex workers. The authorities continued to make no genuine effort to effectively investigate the June 2010 violence in Osh and Jalal-Abad.
Prisoner of conscience
On 31 March, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately release prisoner of conscience Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender, who was sentenced in 2010 to life in prison for purportedly participating in the 2010 ethnic violence and the murder of a police officer. The Committee considered that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial. In response, the Supreme Court reviewed the case on 11 and 12 July, but did not follow the Committee’s conclusions that Azimjan Askarov should be released, and ordered a retrial which opened at Chui Regional Court on 4 October. It continued through to 20 December with a verdict expected in January 2017. Azimjan Askarov participated in all 10 hearings, seated in a metal cage.
Freedom of association
The Parliament rejected the proposed “foreign agents” law, originally proposed in 2014, on its third reading in May. It would have forced NGOs receiving foreign aid and engaging in any form of vaguely defined “political activities” to adopt and publicly use the stigmatizing label of “foreign agent”.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
In May, the Parliamentary Committee on Law, Order and Fighting Crime withdrew draft legislation to criminalize “fostering a positive attitude” towards “non-traditional sexual relations” for further review before the final parliamentary vote. LGBTI rights activists said that even though the law had not yet been passed, it was already “hanging over them” and limiting their activities.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
In a referendum held on 11 December, voters accepted constitutional amendments that undermine human rights protection. These amendments introduce clauses on “supreme state values” and weaken the supremacy of international law over domestic law stipulated in the current Constitution. An amendment to the article on marriage and the family states that the family is formed on the basis of a union between a woman and a man; the current Constitution does not include this wording.
Discrimination – sex workers
In June and July, police in the capital, Bishkek, the surrounding Chui region, and in the southern city of Osh carried out co-ordinated and targeted operations in areas where sex workers were known to congregate, and detained and penalized women they found there. Sex work is not criminalized in Kyrgyzstan, but some of the women received administrative fines for “petty hooliganism” or for failing to produce identity documents. High-ranking police officials made discriminatory and stigmatizing statements about women engaged in sex work in June, referring to the need to “cleanse” the streets and encouraged “community patrols” to photograph people they believed to be sex workers and pass the photographs to the police. This risked increased intimidation and violence towards sex workers from nationalist groups and other non-state actors that had targeted sex workers in the past.
NGOs working with sex workers found that women engaged in sex work faced barriers in accessing health care, including reproductive and sexual health services. Sex work is highly stigmatized in Kyrgyzstan. Health care providers discriminated against sex workers by denying them treatment or offering low quality treatment, and by not respecting confidentiality. Many sex workers did not have identity documents, which are difficult to replace without registration at a permanent address. Lack of identity documents also limited sex workers’ access to health care and other essential services.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and lack of accountability for these human rights violations, remained commonplace. Court cases involving accusations of torture often dragged on for months or years.
The authorities failed to make a genuine effort to effectively investigate the June 2010 inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. While violence was used by members of both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, and while the latter sustained most deaths, injuries and damage, prosecutions were disproportionately aimed at members of the ethnic Uzbek community.
No one was held responsible for the death of Usmanzhan Khalmirzaev, an ethnic Uzbek with Russian citizenship who died of his injuries in August 2011 after being detained and beaten by police. On 22 July, a judge at Chui Regional Court upheld the October 2015 acquittal of the four police officers suspected of being implicated in his death, on grounds of lack of evidence.
Violence against women and girls
Domestic violence, forced marriage, and other forms of violence against women and girls remained pervasive. In most cases, women who survived violence did not go to the police, due to social stigma and discriminatory attitudes, and because they had little faith in the police and justice system. Lack of economic opportunities made it difficult for women to leave abusive relationships and live independently, particularly if they wanted to take their children with them.
According to the National Statistics Committee, 4,960 cases of domestic violence were registered in the period between January and October of which 158 cases proceeded to criminal prosecution.
A law that will help protect adolescent girls from early and forced marriages passed its final parliamentary reading in October and was signed into law by the President on 18 November. The law introduces criminal sanctions of up to five years’ imprisonment for anyone involved in organizing or officiating at a religious marriage ceremony where one or both of the spouses is under the age of 18. This will include religious leaders, as well as parents of the would-be spouses.